There really are no translational difficulties
presented by Colossians 2:9. There are no textual variants to
worry about, and the meanings of the various words are pretty
clear. However, two of the words, theotetos and somatikos do
need further elaboration.
The Greek of the passage reads as follows:
hoti en auto katoikei pan to pleroma tes
The clause opens with the idea of purpose,
hoti, forming the basis of Paul’s warning in verse 8. The rest
of the phrase is so very expressive in the Greek language that
a brief look at it is certainly in order.
The first consideration has to do with the
phrase en auto katoikei. “In Him is dwelling” is the literal
translation. The verb, katoikei
, is in the present
indicative active third person singular. One can easily see a
gnomic present, but a regular descriptive present is also
quite possible. If one were to take this as a regular present,
Paul would be referring to the glorified resurrection body of
the Lord Jesus as the place of residence of the “fulness of
Deity.” This seems the best sense in light of the context of a
polemic against gnosticism.
Katoikei is itself descriptive in meaning.
Kenneth Wuest wrote:
The compound verb was used of the permanent
residents of a town as compared with the transient
community. The verb is in the present tense, showing
durative action. The translation reads: “Because in Him
there is continuously and permanently at home all the
fulness of the Godhead in bodily fashion.”
Hence, the fact of the indwelling of Deity in
Christ is not as an alien presence, but as an inhabitant in
his own home.
The phrase pan to pleroma has already been
discussed in the text of this work. Its significance in
combating gnosticism is of great importance in understanding
Tes theotetos truly is the central word of
this verse. The meaning as rendered by the New American
Standard Bible seems to be the best: Deity. Most would be
familiar with the King James rendering, “Godhead,” though the
meaning of this word is more obscure than that of “Deity.”
The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker lexicon
renders the word “deity, divinity, used as an abstract
noun for theos.”2 Thayer’s
lexicon says, “deity, i.e. the state of being God,
Godhead: Col. ii. 9.” Thayer is here giving us
Grimm’s words. However, he then goes on to provide some
important information on his own, “[SYN. theotes, theiotes
theot. deity differs from theiot. divinity, as
essence differs from quality or attribute;”3
This bit of information is vital. The word under consideration
here, theotes, is not the same word as is found at Romans
1:20, theiotes. This difference is striking and purposeful.
One cannot translate theotes as a simple quality or attribute
refers instead to the actual essence of deity, not simply to
its attributes. The most extensive passage on this important
idea is found in Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament:
...yet they (theiotes and theotes) must not
be regarded as identical in meaning, nor even as two
different forms of the same word, which in process of time
have separated off from one another, and acquired different
shades of significance. On the contrary, there is a real
distinction between them, and one which grounds itself on
their different derivations; theotes being from theos, and
theiotes, not from to theion, which is nearly though not
quite equivalent to theos, but from the adjective theios
...But in the second passage (Col. ii.9) St. Paul is
declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fulness of
absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory
which gilded Him, lighting up his person for a season and
with a splendour not his own; but He was, and is, absolute
and perfect God and the Apostle uses theotes to express this
essential and personal Godhead of the Son;...4
The reader is encouraged to read all of
Kenneth Wuest expanded on this idea in
discussing the significance of theotes at Colossians 2:9:
The Greek is very strong here. One could
translate, “For in Him corporeally there is permanently at
home all the fulness of the Godhead.” That is, in our Lord
Jesus in His incarnation and in the permanent possession of
His human body now glorified, there resides by nature and
permanently the fulness of the Godhead. The word “Godhead”
is from our second word theotes. The word expresses Godhead
in the absolute sense. It is not merely divine attributes
that are in mind
now, but the
possession of the essence of deity in an absolute sense.
Greek Fathers never use theiotes but always theotes as alone
adequately expressing the essential Godhead of the three
several Persons in the Holy Trinity. The Latin Christian
writers were not satisfied with divinitas which was in
common use, but coined the word deltas as the only adequate
representative of the Greek word theotes.5
The concept here put forth is striking. It is
impossible to conceive of a higher view of Christ. This
statement, however, is not inconsistent with Paul’s overall
theology. Benjamin B. Warfield, while discussing Paul’s
conception of Christ, wrote:
...we are told not only that (naturally) in
Him all the fulness dwells (Col. i.19), but, with complete
explication, that “all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in
him bodily” (Col. ii.9); that is to say, the very Deity of
God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness, has
its permanent home in Our Lord, and that in a “bodily
fashion,” that is, it is in Him clothed with a body. He who
looks upon Jesus Christ see, no doubt, a body and a man; but
as he sees the man clothed with the body, so he sees God
Himself, in all the fulness of His Deity, clothed with the
There is little need to further elaborate on
the obvious meaning of theotetos. Let it suffice to say that
such scholars as Alford,7
Nicoll,8 and A. T. Robertson9
all view it in similar manner. Even a cursory glance at how
some of the major translations render the word bear this out:
RSV: For in him the whole fulness of
deity dwells bodily...
NIV: For in Christ all the fullness
of the Deity lives in bodily form...
NEB: For it is in Christ that the
complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied...
Barclay: For it is in Christ that
godhead in all its completeness dwells in bodily form.
- giving complete
expression of the divine nature.
Amplified: For in Him the whole
fullness of Deity (the Godhead), continues to dwell in
What does all of this relate to us today? Can
Paul’s attack on an ancient heresy called gnosticism have any
relevance now? It certainly can, and it most assuredly does!
Most of the modern heresies find their roots in the Church’s
ancient foes (“So, there is nothing new under the sun.” Eccl.
1:9). Arianism and gnosticism is still rampant today. Paul’s
sharp words in laying down the standard by which to test all
teaching must be clung to with never weakening resolve today
as never before! Does a certain group or teacher admit and
proclaim that all the fulness of Deity dwells in Christ Jesus
bodily? If they do not, they are placed by Paul right
alongside “philosophy and empty deception.”10
This passage continues to speak today, and it will throughout
eternity. May it shed its bright light on the Church until
Jesus comes again!
1. Wuest, Word Studies, vol. 1., "Ephesians
and Colossians,” p.201. See also, James Hope Moulton, George
Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Testament, (Grand Rapids: Win.
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1930) p. 338.
2. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 2nd ed., p. 358.
3. Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 288.
4. Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, (Grand
Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953), pp. 7-8.
See also the discussion by Bishop Lightfoot, Colossians, pp.
5. Wuest, Word Studies, vol. 3, ‘Treasures from the Greek New
Testament,’ pp. 75-76.
6. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield,
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), vol 2:184.
7. Alford, New Testament for English Readers,, vol. 3: 1296.
8. Nicoll, Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. 3:523.
9. Robertson, Word Pictures, vol. 4:49 1.
10. Another “philosophy of men” that must be guarded against
is the idea of modalism - the teaching that Jesus is the
Father, the Father is Jesus, Jesus is the Spirit - frequently
called “Jesus Only” teaching. The New Testament makes it
abundantly clear that there are three separate Persons who
share the one Being that is God. The doctrine of the Trinity
states strenuously that God’s Being cannot be divided - each
of the three Persons shares fully and completely in the
theotetos of God - the Deity of God. This is seen above in the
discussion of Colossians 2:9 - Jesus does not simply have 1/3
of God’s Being, but shares fully in the Being of God. Many
modalists use this passage to attempt to substantiate their
non-Christian teaching. A brief glance at Colossians 1:3
should be sufficient to lay this heresy to rest!